Coinbase stock is down 84% since its all-time high price of $381 on its listing day in April 2021, but CEO Brian Armstrong still says going public has had huge benefits for the crypto company.
Going public "has put us on the main stage, where we're able to get deals done with BlackRock and companies like Meta," Armstrong told Messari CEO Ryan Selkis onstage at Messari's Mainnet conference in New York this past week. "Now we're the first Fortune 500 company doing crypto, and so we can go do deal with other Fortune 500 companies now, and they treat us more as a more legitimate force out there."
Before taking Coinbase public, Armstrong said, he spoke with several CEOs who had decided to stay private on the pros and cons. But another benefit of going public has been the ability to raise funds quickly at attractive rates, Armstrong said, pointing to Coinbase raising $3 billion of debt last year in a week without him needing to take a single meeting.
The downside, in Armstrong's view? The public scrutiny and media coverage.
"I think some of the scrutiny is not that helpful, to be honest," he said. "It's just people pushing their own narrative or trying to do anti-tech bias pieces, [that] should be labeled opinion pieces, but they're not."
But negative press is the least of the challenges facing Coinbase right now. After the U.S. Justice Department accused an ex-employee of insider trading in August, the SEC accused the exchange of listing unregistered securities.
Being publicly traded comes with compliance with regulation burdens, Armstrong acknowledges. But because of its size and reputation, he also sees it as his responsibility now, "not just trying to build Coinbase, but how do we actually go out there and be a champion for the whole industry and defend the whole industry."
That thinking led Coinbase to support Tornado Cash users' lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury earlier this month.
"Sanctioning open source software is like permanently shutting down a highway because robbers used it to flee a crime scene," Armstrong wrote in a Coinbase blog post. "It's not the best way to solve a problem. It ends up punishing people who did nothing wrong and results in people having less privacy and security."
Despite the scrutiny, investigations, and negative press, Armstrong says what matters most is building Coinbase's list of products, customer protection with KYC (know your customer) and AML (anti-money laundering) policies, engaging with politicians and regulators, and supporting the industry.
"We're just one of the companies building this movement," Armstrong said. "It's much more about the crypto space broadly than anything Coinbase is doing at this point."